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Exclusive Cover Reveal & Interview with Margarita Engle: A SONG OF FRUTAS

Sun. Warm, delicious sunlight. We’re mid-Autumn but already the sun of summer feels like it was all just a beautiful dream. And trapped as we are by the COVID virus in our homes, it’s not like we can hop a plane to a sunny climate. In lieu of that, we can do the next best thing. We can let author Margarita Engle take us there via her latest picture book A Song of Frutas / Un pregón de frutas.

Today, Ms. Engle joins me as we discuss her latest, take some peeks at interior spreads, and finally debut the cover of her latest. In other words, if we cannot get to the sunshine, the sunshine shall come to us!

But what is A Song of Frutas? Let’s let the publisher take a crack at that one:

From Pura Belpré Award–winning author Margarita Engle comes a lively, rhythmic picture book about a little girl visiting her grandfather who is a pregonero—a singing street vendor in Cuba—and helping him sell his frutas.

When we visit mi abuelo, I help him sell

frutas, singing the names of each fruit

as we walk, our footsteps like drumbeats,

our hands like maracas, shaking…

The little girl loves visiting her grandfather in Cuba and singing his special songs to sell all kinds of fruit: mango, limón, naranja, piña, and more! Even when they’re apart, grandfather and granddaughter can share rhymes between their countries like un abrazo—a hug—made of words carried on letters that soar across the distance like songbirds.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Margarita Engle is the Cuban American author of many books including the verse novels Your Heart, My Sky; With a Star in My Hand; The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner; and The Lightning Dreamer. Her verse memoirs include Soaring Earth and Enchanted Air, which received the Pura Belpré Award, a Walter Dean Myers Award Honor, and was a finalist for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, among others. Her picture books include Drum Dream Girl; Dancing Hands; and The Flying Girl. Visit her at MargaritaEngle.com.

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR

Sara Palacios is the recipient of a Pura Belpré Illustrator Honor for Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match and the illustrator of several other picture books, including The Flying Girl. Sara graduated with a degree in graphic design and went on to earn BFA and MFA degrees in illustration from the Academy of Art in San Francisco. A native of Mexico, Sara now lives in San Francisco.

That’s a bit to chew on! So with that in mind, let’s have a word with Ms. Engle:


Betsy Bird: Well, first and foremost, living in this COVID age, I have to ask, how are you doing? How is your family faring?

Margarita Engle: Thank you for asking. Honestly, I’m numb, grieving my father, who passed in August, and worried about my mother.

BB: I’m so sorry to hear that. I hope your mother is safe and well. These are scary times we live in. We need a bit of joy. With that in mind, tell us a bit about A Song of Frutas.  Where did the concept come from? Where did you get the idea for it?

ME: I wrote A Song of Frutas while thinking of all the pregoneros (singing vendors) I enjoyed listening to during childhood summers in Cuba. They were outlawed after the revolution, along with all other private businesses, but in recent years there has been a revival of the art of singing to invite customers. Some of the singers are truly amazing, while others just try to entertain. Of course, most people in Cuba are very poor, and fruits and vegetables are expensive. Staples such as rice and beans are still rationed, and the pandemic has eliminated tourism, causing a drastic loss of income. Food is scarce, and ration lines are long, making the timing of this celebratory book a bit surrealistic, just like everything else in 2020. I hope that by the publication date in 2021 there will be more food available in Cuba. Sara Palacios’ illustrations are so joyous! I long for that joy to exist again in real life.

BB: A Song of Frutas is being released in the Summer 2021, a time when I too desperately hope we’ll be coming out of our COVID-19 restrictions here in the States. I could not help but notice that in your book a girl lives far away from her grandfather. This is a very great reality that a lot of children are dealing with in our current era. What do you hope the children that read your book might take away from it?

ME: At the time when I wrote this book there was not yet such a drastic need for most children in the U.S. to avoid their grandparents. I wrote A Song of Frutas thinking specifically of Cuban American children who are limited by travel restrictions, as well as undocumented children who can’t visit relatives in other countries because they wouldn’t be able to return to the U.S. Poverty is another limiting factor for children of any background. When you have relatives in other countries, visiting is often impossible due to the expense. Basically, I wanted to write about bridges of words, both in songs and poetic snail mail. (WiFi was rare in Cuba until very recently, and it is still expensive.)

BB: I did not know about the tradition of gobbling 12 grapes at midnight to ring in the new year with 12 different wishes. What will you be wishing for when you eat your grapes this year?

ME: Oh, I will have trouble limiting myself to 12 wishes! I definitely wish for a vaccine, and for an end to the U.S. trade and travel embargo against Cuba, and an end to Cuba’s travel restrictions for their own citizens.

BB: Now if I don’t miss my guess, you’ve worked with illustrator Sara Palacios before (THE FLYING GIRL: HOW AIDA DE ACOSTA LEARNED TO SOAR, 2018). What is it about her art that works so well with your words?

ME: Our editor, Reka Simonsen, has the most astounding artistic sense, always choosing the perfect illustrator for every project. Both The Flying Girl and A Song of Frutas are jubilant books, and Sara Palacios has a special talent for showing that exuberance. Her illustrations are so colorful, and so triumphant! There is also a wonderful feeling of movement, essential to any poem that is intended to convey a songlike rhythm, with recurrent refrains.

BB: And finally, what do you have coming out next?

ME: What’s next is patience, because several of my picture books have been delayed by the pandemic. My next verse novel, Your Heart, My Sky, (Atheneum, March, 2021) is a teen romance set in the 1990s, when hunger in Cuba bordered on starvation. Writing has been a refuge during the nearly nine months that I’ve been isolated at home. All I’m ready to say about the books I’m working on now is that they don’t stand a chance of being published before 2023, and they are focused on climate action, returning to my scientific roots as a botanist, agronomist, and advocate of reforestation.

BB: Topics, no doubt, we’ll need desperately in 2023. Thank you for these.


And now, for those of you at all curious, we present the cover itself!

Also in Spanish!

Look for this book, and the simultaneous Spanish edition Un pregón de frutas, on shelves August 21, 2021. Many thanks to Margarita Engle for patiently answering my questions and to Milena Giunco of Simon and Schuster for setting this up!

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

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